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Swiss Freeways sign

Autobahnen in German, Autoroutes in French, Autostrade in Italian, Autostradas in Romansch are the names of the national freeways or motorways of Switzerland. Two of the most important freeways are the A1, running from St. Margrethen in northeastern Switzerland's canton of St. Gallen through to Geneva in southwestern Switzerland, and the A2, running from Basel in northwestern Switzerland to Chiasso in southern Switzerland's canton of Ticino, on the border with Italy.

Swiss motorways have a general speed limit of 120 km/h (75 mph). Motorways are restricted to vehicles that can obtain a speed of at least 80km/h.


A short stretch of autobahn around the Lucerne area in 1955 created Switzerland's first autobahn. For Expo 1964, an autoroute was built between Lausanne and Geneva. The Bern-Lenzburg autobahn was inaugurated in 1967.

Current densityEdit


Map of the Swiss autobahn network

The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length (as of April 2012) of 1,763.6 km, of the planned 1,893.5km, and has, by an area of 41,290 km², also one of the highest motorway densities in the world with many tunnels. There are 200 tunnels with a total length of 220km.[1]

Military significanceEdit

In peacetime the motorways where regulary used for normal traffic purpose also by wheeled Swiss Military vehicles, like cars, busses, trucks and wheeled APC like the DuropIIP, Mowag Piranha (or to transport the F/A-18C Mocke-up on flatbed trucks.

Motorways as alternate runways:

See also Highway strip


A Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger II crossing a road between the runway and an Hardened aircraft shelter in Mollis airfield in 1999.

When planning the motorway network, the demands of the Air Force were taken into consideration by planning the motorways so they could be used as alternate runways (highway strips).[2] Various stretches of motorway were constructed with straight sections of about 2 km length. The guardrails were replaced by steel cables and could be removed if necessary within a few hours. After cleaning the roadways, painting the runway markings, and setting up wireless connections, such a motorway section could be used as a runway.

The last example of a "runway" was Highway A1 - section Murten - be Payerne, opened in the 1990s, parallel to the runway of the airbase in Payerne.

The use of aircraft was occasionally tested by the WK-units (FLPL Dept.).[3] The section in Oensingen was used on 16 September 1970 from 12-15 o'clock for a military exercise, which was characteristic of the Cold War. The level of secrecy was accordingly high. All unnecessary notices were therefore to be avoided, but many spectators were present, and the media reported it.

The aviators and airport Regiment 3 with the DH-112 Venom performed exercises, which placed great demands on the infrastructure and the skill of the pilots. The exercise was successful, which served as a lesson for other landing and takeoff exercises in other sections of the Swiss motorway network, the last time in 1991 Tessin.

Date Exercise name Place Motorway Truppe Remark
16 September 1970 «U STRADA» Oensingen N1 Flpl Abt 9 Alpnach Air Base 12 de Havilland Venom
26 September 1974 «U STRADA» Münsingen N6 Flpl Abt 12 & 13 Flugplatz Interlaken de Havilland Venom, Meiringen air base Hawker Hunter
28 September 1977 «U NOLA» Flums N13 Flpl Abt 9 Alpnach Air Base Hawker Hunter
1 June 1978 «U NOSTA» Alpnach N8 Flpl Abt 9 Alpnach Air Base Hawker Hunter
6 May 1980 «U ABEX» Aigle-Bex N9 Flpl Rgt 1 Raron, Turtmann Sion Airport Start 36 Hawker Hunter
24 March 1982 «U TAUTO» Münsingen N6 Flpl Rgt 2 Meiringen air base Hawker Hunter F-5 Tiger Interlaken Hawker Hunter
15 October 1985 «U TAUTO» Flums N13 Flpl Abt 8 Ambri Airport

Hawker Hunter ALP-F-5 Tiger Mollis Hawker Hunter

29 September 1988 «U TUTTI» Alpnach N8 Flpl Abt 9 Alpnach Air Base F-5 Tiger
16 November 1988 «U NOSTASIO» Sion N9 Flpl Abt 4 Sion Airport F-5 Tiger
14 November 1991 «U STRADA» Lodrino N2 Flpl Abt 8 Ambri Airport

Hawker Hunter Alpnach Air Base,Mollis Hawker Hunter

Never tested following motorway sections:

  • Stans A2, Short for emergency starting of Dassault Mirage III with JATO rokets.
  • Payerne A1, last built section - theoretically operationally

With the end of the Cold War and the restructuring of the Swiss Army objects are continuously released from the inventory of military infrastructure, including various national roads buildings. With the reform of the army in 1995, the concept of highway-airfields was abandoned. No further operations upkeep or testing is undertaken at this time.

The Gotthard Motorway tunnel, has apart from its usage for the traffic also an classifed military usage.

Civil defence shelterEdit

Another discontinued double use of motorways is the Sonnenberg Tunnel the A2 near Lucerne. Originally designed as the largest civilian shelter of Switzerland and one of the largest in the world and subject to annual functionality tests until 2005, due to increasing maintenance costs its use as a civil defense shelter has been greatly reduced. Previously it accommodated 17,000 people, today it has a capacity of 2,000.

Based on a federal law from 1963, Switzerland aims to provide nuclear fallout shelters for the entire population of the country.[4] The construction of a new tunnel near an urban centre was seen as an opportunity to provide shelter space for a large number of people at the same time. The installations that allowed the tunnel to be converted into a fallout shelter cost around $32.5 million, of which approximately $5 million were borne by the municipality of Lucerne. The shelter consisted of the two motorway tunnels (one per direction of travel), each capable of holding 10,000 people in 64 person subdivisions. A seven story cavern between the tunnels contained shelter infrastructure including a command post, an emergency hospital, a radio studio, a telephone centre, prison cells and ventilation machines.[4] The shelter was designed to withstand the blast from a 1 megaton nuclear explosion 1 kilometre away. The blast doors at the tunnel portals are 1.5 meters thick and weigh 350 tons.

The logistical problems of maintaining a population of 20,000 in close confines were not thoroughly explored, and testing the installation was difficult because it required closing the motorway and rerouting the usual traffic. The only large-scale test, a five-day exercise in 1987 to practice converting the road tunnels into usable shelters, revealed many problems: among other things, it took 24 hours to fully close all four blast doors, and it proved impossible to set up the 20,000 beds within reasonable time. Afterwards, the shelter's capacity was reassessed at 10,000-17,000. Doubts about the tunnel's viability as a shelter remained.

After the end of the Cold War, the high maintenance costs seemed unjustified for an installation that was clearly geared towards use during wartime and couldn't be readied within hours for short-term use after disasters. In 2006, after a long political debate, it was decided to abandon the road tunnel's secondary civil defence function and instead convert the central seven story cavern into a shelter with. Since 2008 there is the possibility to visit the cavern on guided tours and to get an insight into the bunker world of the cold war a more modest capacity of 2,000.


  1. Motorway and tunnels- Retrieved 2012-04-06
  2. Swiss Air Force, Uno Zero Zero – Ein Jahrhundert Schweizer Luftwaffe, Aeropublications, 2013, 324 pages (ISBN 978-3-9524239-0-5).
  3. Kalter Krieg: Die erste Autobahnpiste im Test auf der offiziellen Website der Schweizer Luftwaffe
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Frammery

External linksEdit

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